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Mystery Ingredients

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Hope someone out there can explain to me what bicarbonate of potash is, and where it can be obtained. Alternatively, can baking soda can be substituted, measure for measure, for bicarbonate of potash in a honey cake recipe? Also, what is tartaric acid? I never heard of it until I came across it in a recipe for mascarpone cheese. Is it related to cream of tartar? Where can I get it, or what can be used as a substitute. Thanks:confused:
post #2 of 20
Bicarb of potash: can't tell you where you'll find it, or how much bicarb of soda can be subsitituted, but it is probably a form of potassium carbonate, presumably K2C2O3 (but it's a long time since I did chem). You'll find lots of info just by searching on the web.

Tartaric acid is closely related to cream of tartar, but not quite the same thing. Most importantly, tartaric acid is much more potent (by volume) than cream of tartar -- at least four times stronger. They are often described as being interchangeable, but few books note the difference in strength -- and some books confuse their terminology.

In Australia, and presumably elsewhere, tartaric acid is sold in crystalline form, looking like a golden coloured caster sugar, while cream of tartar is a white powder.

post #3 of 20
Thread Starter 

Mystery Ingredients

Thanks, lamington, your reply is most appreciated. The honey cake recipe, called piernik in the old Polish cookbook I found it in, calls for a "dash" of bicarbonate of potash. I substituted 1/4 tsp of baking soda but the cake was so very dry and heavy that I had to inject it with lots of framboise to make it palatable. I'm not giving up on finding a solution -- perhaps 4x the amount of baking soda would help.

Re the tartaric acid: Resources are limited in the Catskill Mtns of New York State -- I'll ask a friendly pharmacist if he has access to a source.

Thanks again. Helen
post #4 of 20
Hi helenm. You can probably substitute citric acid for the tartaric when making mascarpone -- some commercial mascarpones (outside of Italy) use citric acid.

post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 

Mystery Ingredients

lamington to the rescue again. I assume you are referring to the citric acid (aka sour salt) used in canning to preserve the color of fruits. I have some in my pantry but never would have thought to use it in cheese making. If I can't locate tartaric acid, I will try the citric acid. Many thanks for taking the time to answer my question.:)

post #6 of 20
You can get tartaric acid at the beer brewing supply store.

post #7 of 20
Thread Starter 
:D Wow, thanks Kuan. There is brewing supply shop in the next town over -- about 7 miles from here. I'll give it a shot. Thanks so much for your input .

post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
:bounce: Kuan, your suggestion was right on target. Got my tartaric acid yesterday and I'm all set to make mascarphone. Thanks again.

I'm still looking for a source for small quantities of bicarbonate of potash and ammonium carbonate. Was offered the opportunity to buy 44,000 lb truckloads, but that's way more than I need for my Christmas honeycake and gingerbread cookies. If anyone can suggest a mail order supplier, I'd be grateful.

post #9 of 20
I have ammonium carbonate in a weensy jar down in my cupboard; I get it from my local Very Fancy Foods and Italian Deli store (the one out of which I invariably emerge with one. small. bag worth $50...) It is packaged by Red Club Products in Mississauga... which, unfortunately, probably doesn't help YOU much.

I've also seen it sold by weight at the local bulk baking supply store; THEY buy the giant bags, and portion it out. And I've seen it at German/European specialty stores as well, it being a traditional ingredient.

Do you have any directions for using it, or proportions, or recipes including it? I'm DYING to try mine, but so far the only recipe I have is one for Pfeffernusse. I've got a few recipes which (frustratingly!) say things like "these were traditionally made with ammonium carbonate, but I have adapted the recipe to use baking powder"! (grumble!)
post #10 of 20
Thread Starter 
Hi CompassRose,

Can't really help with recipies because the cookbooks I have are in Polish. With the recent loss of my mother-in-law and her cousin, translating the recipies is beyond my scope (my forebears are from Northern and Southern Italy). I came across some recipies that called for ammonium carbonate while looking for a nut torte recipe (with my husband translating), but I don't remember right now just what they were.

I can tell you that the ammonium carbonate, aka bakers ammonia, is used in some crackers, as well as springerle and gingerbread cookies to make them light and crisp. The cookies must be made small and thin so that the ammonia can bake off. If you want to try it, substitute 1 tsp baking powder AND 1 tsp baking soda for 1 tsp of bakers ammonia.

I recently learned that the bakers ammonia is available on line thru

Hope this info helps you. Helen
post #11 of 20

Mascarpone Mania

Helen! Won't you share your recipe for mascarpone cheese, now that we all know where to buy tartaric acid? I remember seeing this particular ingredient used on a TV cooking show, but I think it was used for fresh mozzarella cheese . . . sound like something that would work, also? I'm dyin' ta know, here!
You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don't Take --Wayne Gretsky
You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don't Take --Wayne Gretsky
post #12 of 20
Thread Starter 
Delighted liztwozee -- it couldn't be easier!

Ingredients: 1 qt light cream 1/4 tsp tartaric acid

Heat cream in dbl boiler to 180 deg. Add tartaric acid to hot cream and stir sev'l minutes. If cream does not coagulate, add a bit more tartaric acid.

Pour into cheese cloth lined strainer and drain in fridge for 12 hrs.

Can be stored, covered, in fridge for up to 2 wks.

Mascarpone is, by the way, the Italian version of cream cheese. It's quite rich! I use it in tiramisu (see for recipies). You might substitute it for ricotta in some recipies -- in fact ricotta combined with heavy cream can be substituted for mascarpone. Mozzarella, however, is a whole other cheese -- more like muenster in texture, but milder in flavor.

Don't know about your neck of the woods, but up here, when mascarpone is available, 8 oz. costs $4.00, and it isn't always as fresh as one would want.

Happy cheesemaking!! Helen :lips:
post #13 of 20

Your honey cake

but the cake was so very dry and heavy that I had to inject it with lots of framboise to make it palatable.

Hi Helen, the above is what I read about your honey cake.
I often make honey cake and it is never dry and I never have to inject it with any thing.
You know of course the secret to a good honey cake is to wrap it and hide it away a couple of weeks before yo attempt to cut it.
Bake now will be just in time for the holiday's.
:-)) qahtan
post #14 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the suggestion, qahtan. The recipe I have for piernik calls for aging the dough for six weeks before baking -- which I do. I still haven't been able to procure the potash, or potassium carbonate so I substituted baking soda and baking powder. (Last year, I used only baking soda and the results were disappointing. ) I'm still a week away from baking and hoping for the best. Will post the results.

post #15 of 20

Click here for Sources for Potassium Carbonate

post #16 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the sources mudbug, but I'm afraid it will take more than the potassium to fix my recipe. I could'nt bear the suspense any longer so I baked the honey cakes yesterday. The results were disappointing, to say the least. Although the dough rose teasingly in the bowl while resting, and even somewhat in the pan during baking, the resulting cakes are bricklike. The flavor, hower, is fine

This is, traditionally, a dense cake, but it should'nt threaten to break anyone's teeth. Afraid I'm going to have to inject it again --maybe Amaretto, this year. Couldn't hurt it, anyway. Next year, I'll add a cup of water to the dough and see what happens. Cooking is all about experimenting, isn't it?;)
post #17 of 20
Hi Helenm,

I was simply responding to your comments posted:

10-27-2003 06:51 PM
"Hope someone out there can explain to me what bicarbonate of potash is, and where it can be obtained."

12-08-2003 06:24 PM:
"I still haven't been able to procure the potash, or potassium carbonate..."

Yes, cooking is about experimenting but it seems that you're determined to do this recipe again and since you'll have a whole year to plan for the next time, why not go ahead and get some potassium carbonate so you can execute the recipe you have as written? (Is this a family recipe?) I believe one of the sources was in the $3.50 range. And then you'll know for sure! Especially with all the time and effort you've put into your first two.

Or... you could try again after the New Year for fun!

I also suggest trying a different recipe which does not require ingredients you can't easily acquire:

Honey Cake tried and true with reviews.

More Honey Cake Recipes

post #18 of 20
Thread Starter 
Hello mudbug,

My husband would say that I'm addicted to tension. Actually, I like a challenge and this is certainly that. It also keeps me humble -- it's the only baking problem I haven't yet (underscore yet) resolved.

This honey cake (called Piernik) is not a family recipe, but it is a traditional Polish specialty (it's also baked as cookies) that my husband's family introduced me to, and one we all enjoy at Christmas. The recipe makes 7 1/2 lbs of dough (3 cakes); covered completely in chocolate and stored in a tin, the cake lasts a long time so I don't intend to make it again for a while.

By the way, thanks for the links to the honey cakes -- they don't appear to be what I'm looking to duplicate but I appreciate the thought.

Happy holidays, and thanks to all who have provided input.

post #19 of 20
I found this piece of info on


Tartaric acid is a brownish-red acid powder (potassium bitartrate) that is precipitated onto the walls of casks used to age wine. When refined into a white acid powder, ‘cream of tartar’, it is used in baking.

Cream of tartar is an acid powder. Combined with baking SODA it makes baking POWDER.

Cream of tartar is also used to give a creamier texture to sugary things like candy and frosting and to stabilize and increase the volume of beaten egg whites.

Cream of tartar can be used to clean brass and copper cookware."

If you are interested in learning more, I can get my Cookwise out and give you more info.

post #20 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your reply, Laura. I've visited the site you refer to, and others. Have also been in touch with various chemical suppliers and have just received a sample of sodium bicarbonate -- apparently potassium carbonate or bicarbonate is used in place of the sodium bicarb when sodium is a dietary issue.

At any rate, I made some modifications to the recipe this year,and added some water. The result was a big improvement over past trials, though I still had to lace the cakes with alcohol. I dipped the cookies into glazes ( some chocolate and some lemon). After storing a few weeks, both cakes and cookies softened up and we're still enjoying them.

I'm looking forward to working up the next batch, and improving the end product even further.

Helen :)
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